PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When was the last time you walked into a grocery store and emerged an hour later feeling centered, calmer and happier, as if you had just spent that time at a day spa?
Well, Guido’s Fresh Marketplace can’t guarantee that grocery shopping therapy at their two locations will make all of your stresses disappear. But, they can offer you a temporary respite that’s sure to delight all of your senses — while at the same time filling your basket with the freshest seasonal local items, custom-ordered butcher meat, ready-to-go-dinners, deli sandwiches, and even last minute gifts that won’t seem like they’re last-minute.
Your repose at the Pittsfield location begins upon entry as you’re greeted with the calming scents wafting from Bella Flora. The sweet, warm inviting smells form an eclectic aroma of the fresh flowers, plants, candles, and scented oils that are among the many items sold by owners Annie and Chris Whalen. But more on that later.
We also talked to other store insiders (independent Guido’s vendors like Bella Flora) who shared their tips for getting the most out of your “Guido’s Getaway” — whether you’re looking for local farm fresh favorites like cider doughnuts or just watching people stroll while you chill with a cup of java or a smoothie on the patio of Guido’s Cafe.
If you’re a visual person, you’re in for a treat. You’ll be mesmerized as you travel to Italy via Guido’s Fresh Markplace’s designer cheese department, La Grotta, where endless displays of cheese are featured as if they were in a magazine spread.
Next to the expansive circular cheese counter is where you can watch cheesemaker Claudia Santos-China pull and tug on fresh, warm mozzarella before forming the creamy mixture into balls.
Insider tip #1: The native Brazilian loves to interact with customers, so for a cool story, ask her how she found herself making fresh mozzarella at Guido’s a few years ago. You can find Claudia there almost everyday. But if you can’t wait for your visit, you can go to berkshireeagle.com to see a video of Claudia in action. Tip #2: She loves to give out samples.
Rooted in freshness and experience
Before we travel any further on our getaway, let’s get a little background on Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, with two locations, one in Pittsfield and the other in Great Barrington, the latter of which is undergoing a renovation.that will add 25,000 square feet of space.
For 42 years, brothers Chris and Matt Masiero have combined their backgrounds in culinary arts and produce retail to grow Guido’s Fresh Marketplace into the premier purveyor of quality produce in Berkshire County and neighboring areas. The brothers set up their original roadside stand on Route 7 in Pittsfield in 1979.
The humble stand was so popular that in under three years the brothers outgrew their place and opened their first store on the same Route, just south of the original. The new place allowed the brothers to bring in vendors specializing in meat, fish, flowers and prepared foods. It also allowed Guido’s to expand its offerings from farm and produce to prepared foods, hot pizza, fried chicken, and much more.
Guido’s Fresh Marketplace Shopper: A day in the life
Ok, back to our “Guido’s Getaway.” Here’s what a recent typical fall shopping day at Guido’s Pittsfield store looked like:
After being lured into the serenity and beauty that is Bella Flora, we checked out the beautiful Autumn decorations staged on several tables in the area. In addition to flowers, Bella Flora sells homemade jewelry, dishes, toys, inspirational items, gifts, and much more.
If you’re the type of person who feels calm when colors match and sizes are arranged systematically, the adjacent produce department will help keep that momentum.
Moving from Bella Flora, customers are greeted with vivid colors of all kinds of produce — meticulously centered on barrels or displayed prominently in bins. Seasonal items like locally grown apples are featured prominently, not too far from the house-made apple cider doughnut display. It’s basically an indoor farm.
Don’t have time to cut up all of those veggies, but still need that nutrition? Guido’s pre-cut produce and washed salads ease the dinner hour rush and promote convenient, healthy alternatives to fast food. Seasonal vegetables (such as squash and turnip in the colder months and corn-on-the-cob in summer), ready-to-go stir fry mixes and packaged salads of mixed greens, arugula, mesclun and organic baby spinach and lettuces save time in the kitchen without sacrifice of flavor and good nutrition.
On the opposite side of the produce, is an aisle-long offering of bulk food items. From there, it’s a short walk before arriving at Guido’s little Italy, or La Grotta, which features several stunning displays of all types of local and imported cheeses and accoutrements. Some of the cheese varieties are directly imported. If you don’t see it, ask. There’s always a cheesemonger behind the circular counter.
This is also where you will see Claudia Santos-China. She works behind the mozzarella stand, socially distanced from customers, but close enough to hand out warm samples of cheese. The mozzarella she makes can be bought individually or as part of other products in the store, such as a tomato, mozzarella and basil salad.
“I am the big cheese!” Claudia likes to exclaim.
Her mozzarella is also used for some of the hot, fresh pizzas made daily just a few feet behind Claudia’s stand. Pizzas are pre-made, hot, and ready, but they also take custom orders. During the lunch hour on a recent visit, even though there was a steady stream of customers ordering pizza, hot food items, custom sandwiches and deli items, employees moved swiftly to fill customer’s orders — avoiding a bottleneck.
Rounding out the back corner of the store is Mazzeo’s Meat and Seafood, another vendor in both locations. The freshest seafood New England has to offer can be found here along with a huge array of humanely raised meats — all displayed aesthetically pleasing, with clerks fixing the display after filling each order.
And, if you’re lucky, you may even catch co-owner Mike Mazzeo cruising the beer and wine offerings in his section and pausing to talk to customers and answer questions.
“The impressions that our customers see first is the variety, freshness, selection and presentation we offer,” he said. “They will see that our professional clerks can help in recommending cuts, preparation, and cooking.”
Mazzeo also has an insider tip for customers. Insider tip #3: Thursday is the best day to shop at Mazzeo’s.
“Thursdays tend to be the least busy day and our biggest fresh delivery day of meats and fish,’’ Mazzeo said. Insider tip #4 “Also, although meat prices are at an all time high, there are excellent alternatives to the higher priced steaks and chops.Some of my favorites are grass-fed chuck roast, chicken thighs, and pork tenderloin.”
At the end of the meat section is Guido’s Cafe, where customers can buy pastries, soup, coffee, smoothies, and some grab-and-go items without the hassle of waiting in the standard grocery lines. Customers also can sit on the patio and enjoy their food while people-watching.
Towards the front of the store at the end of Aisle #1 is the vendor The Chef’s Shop, owned by Rob Navarino. The beautiful display showcases everything for the cooking connoisseur.
“I want people to feel The Chef’s Shop’s sense of enthusiasm and excitement,” Navarino said. “We love cooking, baking, dining, and entertaining, and we want our customers to feel that same jolt of energy. When they see the vast array of tools and equipment that we bring to Guido’s — the colorful and innovative gadgets and tools, the gleaming stainless steel cookware, the warmth of wood boards and ceramic bowls — we want them to feel inspired that great food and cooking can not only meet our basic needs for sustenance, but that it can also tickle our fancy and even inspire us to live and feel healthy.”
Navarino also has a tip. Insider tip #5: Try the orange honeydew melon in the produce section before it goes out of season.
“My girlfriend got me addicted to the orange honeydew melon and now I’ve become a disciple of orange melon, presenting it to friends and family all over the East Coast,” Navarino said of his discovery in Guido’s huge produce department.
Locally sourced products featured in between the aisles
While those vendors make up the outskirts of Guido’s layout, the aisles are packed with more locally sourced items, many of which are available seasonally. Here are just a few.
• Aisle #1: A huge selection of olive oil, including Guido’s own brand — which goes great with the locally grown tomatoes.
• Aisle #2: A vast selection of maple syrup and honey — most locally produced.
• Aisle #3: The sweet aroma of locally produced coffee lives here.
• End of Aisle #5: Bread, bagels from local bakeries with vegan and gluten-free frozen options as well.
By now, surely you’re calm, maybe even full. But your experience doesn’t end there. The last thing to do is check out, where cashiers will make sure your experience was memorable and will be ready to greet you when you return.
“The best part of shopping at Guido’s by far is the staff,” Navarino said. “They are always helpful, always polite and professional, and always ready to lend a hand no matter what your question is. They’re the best!”
Come see for yourself, Guido’s Fresh Marketplace may not be able to massage the stress out of your life, but they sure can tickle your senses. Come on by and check them out!
Contributing Editor: Casondra Brewster